I don’t know what time we finally fell asleep, but it was half past four in the morning when I woke up and discovered that Alan was no longer beside me. He had wrapped the blankets tightly around me before he had left and had placed a note on his pillow. He told me that my performance had been stellar, as always, and promised that he would see me in the morning.
I smiled as I read the note. Alan could always be counted on to keep up my morale. I wrapped a comfortable old terry cloth robe around myself and padded out into the kitchen, brewed a new pot of coffee and poured myself a cup. Then I sat down on my couch and curled my legs under me. It was a cool morning, the robe just thick enough to keep me comfortable. The heat from the coffee spread its way through my body, warming me to the bone.
I was halfway through my second cup when my pager went off. Another body had been found.
* * *
Despite the presence of another body there didn’t really seem to be any reason to hurry. I took the time to shower and dress and make myself look like something better than a drowned rat. I threw on a pair of old drawstring khaki pants and an almost equally ancient t-shirt, threw an old white button-down sweater over top.
This time the body had been found in almost the same area as the last one, but a few blocks away. I grounded my speeder in amongst the line of official vehicles gathered to investigate the scene, and I wasn’t at all surprised to find Alan waiting for me.
I pulled him close and hugged him tight, held onto him for a long moment. “I missed you this morning,” I whispered against him.
Alan’s left hand was on the small of my back, his right hand was buried in my hair and tickling the back of my neck. I purred and hugged him a little tighter. “I’m sorry,” he apologized.
“Don’t be,” I told him. Then I pulled away from him a little and smiled up at him. “But you desert me like that again and I’ll beat you senseless.”
Alan grinned. “Hell, if I know you, you’ll beat me senseless just on general principles.”
Then I really looked at Alan, for the first time that morning. He looked old, which struck me as more than a little odd. If last night had been anything like as good for him as it had been for me then he should have looked young, vital, alive. “Are you all right?” I asked him.
Alan nodded and smiled a wan smile. “Yeah, I’m fine. I just didn’t get a lot of sleep last night.”
I grinned impishly. “Well, you’ve got no one to blame for that but yourself.”
Alan returned my grin. “I don’t recall you objecting at any time,” he said.
“I wasn’t in any shape to object,” I told him. “Besides, you started it.”
“Just like a woman,” Alan complained, “always blaming the man.”
“That’s because it’s always the man’s fault,” I asserted.
Alan snorted. “And that, my dear, is why Chronic Scapegoat Syndrome is alive and well to this day,” he said. “It’s always somebody else’s fault.”
I gave Alan one last squeeze and then let go of him. “What do we have?” I asked.
Alan lead me over to where the body had been found, ushered me past the curtain. “It’s pretty much the same kind of killing we’ve been seeing all week,” he explained. “The victim was stabbed several times and then slit open. There are, however, two important differences.”
“What differences?” I wanted to know.
“For starters,” Alan explained, “this time the victim wasn’t bound or gagged. Not only that, she died where she was found.”
I stopped in my tracks and turned on him. “You’re sure about that?” I demanded.
Alan shrugged. “As sure as I can be until the medical examiner has a look,” he answered. “There’s a lot more blood at this site than there has been at any of the others. Offhand, I’d say it’s probably a good guess, but we’ll have to wait for the medical examiner to tell us before we know for certain.”
“My God in Heaven,” I breathed. “Our perfect killer may have just made a mistake.”
“How do you mean?” Alan asked.
I shrugged. “Well, it’s simple really,” I answered. “The biggest problem with this investigation is that we’ve never been able to determine exactly where the victims were killed before they were delivered to wherever we found them. This time he appears to have killed his intended victim and just left her there for all to see. One has to wonder what else he’s left behind.”
Alan folded his arms across his chest and frowned in thought. “That’s an awfully good question, isn’t it?”
“It is,” I said, “and one that we should have some answers to fairly shortly I would think.”
* * *
The forensics team arrived in short order and went over the scene in great detail, leaving no stone unturned as it were. Gerald was there as well to do the initial examination of the body before it was transported off to the morgue for the detailed autopsy.
Gerald had already done his initial assessment and was entering notes into his data pad at a furious pace, eager to get all of his impressions into storage before he forgot something important. Alan was off talking to the uniformed constables who had canvassed the local neighborhood, looking for anyone who may have seen or heard what happened.
“Alan is essentially correct in what he told you,” Gerald said. “Where she was found is where she was killed.”
“Anything else I should know?” I asked.
“Just this,” Gerald answered. “What happened here happened quickly. The killer identified his target, apprehended her, took her out of sight, beat her, and then cut her open, all within a matter of a few moments. Whoever did this was in a terrible rush.”
Having completed my conversation with Gerald I went off in search of Alan. He had just finished interviewing the constables and was making notes on his data pad. “Before you have a chance to ask,” he said as I approached, “the local residents didn’t see or hear anything.”
“No surprise there,” I answered. “I’ve gotten everything I can out of Gerald until he has a chance to complete the autopsy. I suppose we should go back to headquarters and file our initial reports.”
“Probably,” Alan agreed. He closed his data pad and pocketed it. “Look, I’ve got a couple of errands I have to run first,” he said. “Why don’t I meet you there?”
“All right,” I said and gave Alan a quick hug. “Go and run your errands. Just hurry back.”
“I will,” Alan promised as he returned my hug. Then he pulled away from me and made for his speeder.
I stood there watching Alan for a long moment, thinking about how much I cared about him and how lucky I was that the two of us had decided to adopt each other. I watched as he climbed into his speeder, but when he opened the door something caught my eye. Sitting on the passenger side seat was a long machete in a leather sheath.
Hmmm, I thought to myself. I wonder why he has that?
* * *
I couldn’t explain why at the time, but the sight of that machete in Alan’s speeder bothered me. It wasn’t the kind of weapon that a city detective was likely to carry, and it certainly wasn’t the kind of weapon that one would be inclined to display openly like that, especially in view of all the recent killings.
I sat down at my desk after I returned to headquarters and called up all the files on the string of killings. Appended to each autopsy report was a description of the kind of weapon that had been used to cut the victim open. In all cases the description was identical. The weapon was identified as a military issue machete, or similar long bladed knife or short sword.
Then on a whim I called up the profile that had been created to describe the killer. The profile described the killer as a male, somewhere between the ages of twenty and forty, with a background of prior military service.
The description of the weapon used in the killings could easily match the machete that had been on Alan’s passenger seat, but that brought me back to the question of why Alan would have such a weapon in his possession, and why the weapon was so publicly displayed, especially in the wake of this newest killing.
The weapon had been sheathed, though. But sometimes sheaths don’t just protect the blade from the elements. Sometimes sheaths can be used to conceal what’s on the blade itself.
I called up Alan’s personnel record and looked at the background check that had been conducted when he joined the police force. Before he had signed on with the force he had served two tours of duty as an Imperial Marine during the last years of the Rebellion. According to the information in the file he had served with distinction and even been awarded several medals for conspicuous bravery.
There was one other note in his file. During his last tour of duty Alan and a number of other Marines were captured during a ground assault on a Rebel supply base. They were listed as missing in action for almost nine months before a follow up mission was able to rescue them.
I really didn’t believe that Alan would be capable of killing someone in cold blood, much less killing several people in cold blood. But the presence of the machete disturbed me, as did the note concerning his capture. I had to know for certain that Alan was innocent, for I knew that if there was even the slightest doubt in my mind then I wouldn’t be able to face him until I knew for sure.
And that could spell the end of our friendship.
When Alan and I had been promoted to Detective we had each owned our own speeder. Upon our promotion the department had taken our speeders in and performed a substantial refurbishing. The engines and power reactors had been replaced with more powerful versions, and an onboard computer system with ties to the electronic data networks of the Police force had been installed as well. The department had also installed a Global Positioning Satellite transceiver. As it had been explained to me when it had been installed the purpose of the GPS device was to allow the authorities to quickly track down the vehicle and recover it in the even that it was stolen. Alternately, in the event that something happened to the vehicles owner it would allow the police to converge upon the vehicles location and investigate.
I never dreamed that I would be using this system to investigate my partner.
I called up the GPS data base and entered the ID code for Alan’s speeder, placed a query for the logged whereabouts of his speeder on the days when the bodies had been found.
It took the computer some time to download all the information and it took me some time to sift through it all. I wasn’t sure exactly what it was that I was looking for, I just knew that I had to look and had a sneaking suspicion that I would know what it was I was looking for when I found it.
On the days of the murders, Alan’s speeder seemed to follow almost the same pattern of movements, all within hours of the discovery of the victims’ bodies. In all cases Alan would enter the approximate area of town where the victim had been found and seemed to cruise around the streets for a while. Then he would leave town, and he would always go to the same location. Some time later, and this varied with each and every instance of this pattern, he would return to the city and stop for a few moments within meters of where the bodies were found. Then, it seemed, he would go about his business.
The only break in the pattern was last night. After Alan had left my apartment he had taken a cruise through the neighborhood where the latest victim had been found. He had stopped for several minutes, and then returned home. He had arrived there bare minutes before he had been informed of the finding of the new body.
The location where he had stopped was mere meters away from the point where the body had been found.
A lump formed in my throat and a chill shivered its way up and down my spine. Was Alan the killer? He couldn’t be the killer. Alan was the single gentlest person I had ever met in all the years of my life. He was incapable of killing someone in cold blood.
But what if I was wrong?
No matter what I needed proof, more than what I had been able to gain from a casual search of the computer systems. What I had before me was certainly compelling, but it was also circumstantial. In order to prove Alan innocent I had to find evidence which clearly implicated someone else, evidence which proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Alan had absolutely nothing to do with all the killings, and I could think of only one place that could provide that kind of proof.
I downloaded the contents of the queries I had made, as well as a map to the location Alan seemed to frequently visit and all of my notes, onto my data pad. Then I made for my speeder and left town.
The place where Alan had stopped all those other nights was located in the woodlands which ringed Acheron City. I slipped past the city limits and followed the highway due west for almost fifty kilometers before finding a turn off. I turned to the North and followed an old little used side road for another twenty kilometers or so before finding another turn off which lead to an old abandoned farm house.
I grounded my speeder and disembarked. With a portable torch in one hand and my sidearm in the other I performed a room by room search of the house, holding my torch up at eye level for the best field of view. The house was empty and had been for some time.
But there was more than the one building on the farm.
At the top of a short hill there were two other buildings. The larger of them was an old dairy barn, the smaller what appeared to be an old garage, or a workshop.
I climbed the hill and decided to search the workshop first.
The double doors on the front of the building opened easily. The building was dark, the shades on the windows closed to prevent any unwanted light from getting in. I raised my torch to eye level and thumbed the switch that turned it on.
Several tarpaulins were spread across the floor. Most of them were fairly clean, but a cluster in the center of the room bore dark stains. Under the light of the torch the stains were the dark color of dried blood.
I stepped into the workshop, leaving the doors opened behind me, and opened the shades, flooding the room with natural sunlight before turning off my torch.
The torch light hadn’t done the sight before me justice. Not only were the tarps stained, but it was clear that whatever, or whoever, had been on top of them at the time the stains were made had not held still. The tarp was rumpled, as if someone or something had put up a great struggle.
I reached into my jacket pocket and withdrew a handful of sample bags and a pair of latex gloves. I donned the gloves and used a pocket knife to scrape some of the dried blood into the bags. Then I left the workshop, closing the shades and securing the door behind me before jogging down the hill and climbing into my speeder.
I powered up the computer system and linked up to the local land titles office, performed a search to see just who it was that owned this property.
The owner of record was one Alan Morris, who had purchased the property at auction.
I needed to talk to Alan and I needed to talk to him now.
I tossed the sample baggies into my glove compartment and called up the GPS system, punched for a query into the location of Alan’s speeder.
Alan wasn’t at home, nor was he at headquarters. He was cruising aimlessly through one of the downtown red light districts, the same region where all of our victims had been found.
I looked down at my watch. It was past suppertime, almost sun down. If I was right I wouldn’t have a lot of time to prevent what I believed was going to happen.
I powered up my speeder and left the farm in a cloud of dust.
* * *
I grounded my speeder right behind Alan’s, disembarked and mounted the sidewalk with one hand on my pistol.
On my way into town I had stopped by headquarters, dropped the samples I had collected with the forensics department and ordered an analysis, promising them that I would explain more when I returned. Then I had left before the forensics people or even my own boss could start asking questions. The last thing I needed was for people to start asking questions because I wasn’t sure that I could answer them. Not yet anyway.
If Alan was following the pattern that I thought he was, then he was some place close and he was doing one of two things. Either he was scoping out the prospects for a potential target, or he was luring his target to this point so that he could get them into the speeder and take them out to that farm.
I picked a direction and started a search, scanning every face in the crowds as I meandered through them, my eyes searching for any sign of Alan.
It didn’t take me long to find him.
Alan was standing in the mouth of an alley, leaning casually against a building and watching the crowd pass in front of him. I stepped up to him and stopped a few meters away, close enough to see that even though it was Alan, it wasn’t the same Alan that I had come to love and respect.
For starters his stance wasn’t as casual as it appeared to be. The difference was in the eyes. His eyes were darting back and forth through the crowd, as if they were search lights on a rescue ship. Only Alan wasn’t looking to save anyone. I took a good look at Alan from a distance, went over him from head to toe the way only a close friend could. That’s when I began to see things, and in the back of my mind I started to wonder how long I had been seeing them without knowing it.
Alan was in pain, and not just emotionally. He was feeling something physical, something primal. I could see the tension in his body and I knew without thinking about it that it was taking all of his self-control just to stand there like that, to choose just the right target at just the right moment when all he wanted to do was lash out and kill, to take someone in his hands and crush the life out of them. And Alan was hurting inside too, in a way that was much more insidious but no less deadly. What he was doing went against everything he believed, everything that he knew to be right and wrong. And yet he couldn’t keep from doing it. No matter how much he despised his actions he was being forced to carry them out, and I knew that he had to be berating himself about that. If I knew Alan then he was telling himself over and over again that he should be strong enough to fight what was happening, that he should be strong enough to resist, and that every body that hit the ground because of him was a failure.
Alan was a protector who couldn’t protect anything. He was killing what he had sworn to protect and it hurt him to do it. He literally felt the loss of every life he took and as I stepped closer to him I could feel it too. The pain rolled off of him in waves, spiking every now and again as the sense of urgency in his head grew stronger and stronger.
Alan watched me approach, noticed almost immediately that my hand was on my sidearm. “You know, don’t you?” he asked me.
I nodded. “I saw the machete in your speeder earlier today,” I told him, “and I paid a visit to the work shed on your farm. What I don’t know is why.”
Alan shrugged. “That’s all right,” he assured me. “I’m not all that certain I know why either.”
I stepped closer and watched Alan recoil, move a little deeper into the alley. I tried to keep my voice and my expression neutral, but in truth I was jumping for joy at his response to my movements. If I could get him to go further into the alley then the only way he could get at anyone would be to go through me, which meant I had a chance to stop him before he decided to give in to the impulses that were driving him and kill someone.
It meant I had a chance to take him alive.
“Alan, listen to me,” I said. “This doesn’t have to happen like this. Come with me and we can figure out what’s happening to you. We can figure out who did this to you and why.”
Alan shook his head. “Oh, I think we both know who did it,” Alan returned as he backed farther into the alley. “You looked up my military record, didn’t you?”
I nodded as I followed him deeper into the alley. “That’s right, I did,” I answered. “I know that you were captured by rebel forces during the last war. I know that you were rescued nine months later. What I don’t know is what happened in between, but I think that I can guess.”
Alan stopped and folded his arms across his chest. His right hand was centimeters away from his sidearm. “They herded us all together and built a stockade around us,” he explained to me. “It was a quick and dirty thing, obviously not where they intended to keep us permanently. After they built the stockade they put up a series of prefabricated buildings and then began rolling in loads of equipment. We didn’t know at the time what was in the containers; all we knew was that several of them had biohazard symbols on them.
“Then they started taking us in, one at a time. Whenever the prisoners would come back they would have these horrified, shell shocked expressions on their faces, and when they tried to explain what had happened to them the words would stick in their throats and they wouldn’t be able to talk. Silly me, I thought they had just been tortured. But then my turn came and I began to wish that torture was all they had in mind.
“The guards came for me one day and dragged me into one of the buildings. They led me into a room and strapped me down into a chair, then took up guard positions at the door. A few moments later an officer in a white lab coat came in and started injecting me with things. I tried to ask what was going on, what they wanted with me but after he injected me I found that I couldn’t speak. I blacked out a few moments later.
“When I came around I had bandages wrapped around my head. I asked the nurse attending me how long I had been out but she wouldn’t tell me. She wouldn’t even tell me what had been done to me and why. In fact the nurses wouldn’t speak to us at all. I imagine they were told not to.
“About an hour after I came to, that’s when the sessions started. And that’s when I began to have some kind of clue what they did to me. They strapped me into a chair again and that same guy in the lab coat walked in, chattering to me and punching keys on a data pad. Then he put the pad in his pocket, drew out a remote, aimed it at me and pressed a button.
“It was a long time before I stopped screaming.”
I shuddered at his explanation of what had happened to him. I could imagine the pain he had felt when whatever they had implanted in him had been triggered. And I could feel his anguish, his sense of helplessness as he felt it happening all over again. But there was also a sense of confusion, as if something were not quite what he had expected it to be.
“Alan, listen to me,” I pleased. “Let me take you back to the station. We’ll put you into custody and get Gerald to have a good look at you. If something has been done to you we’ll find out what it was and we’ll figure out a way to fix it.”
“And what makes you think that it’s as simple as all that?” Alan demanded. “Don’t you get it yet? They messed around with what I have in my head. They figured out a way to turn me into a cold-blooded killer. Do you really think they’re going to allow me to be taken alive? I don’t know what it is they did to me exactly, but I do know this. If you try to take me I will fight you and one of us is going to die”
“Not if I have anything to say about it,” I answered. “You’ve spent your life protecting people, making their lives better by fighting battles that normal people shouldn’t have to fight, just like the one you’re fighting now. You have the strength to overcome this. They conditioned you, but conditioning can be broken.”
Alan shook his head. “This goes a lot deeper than simple conditioning,” he snapped. “I know all about conditioning, about the hypnotic triggers that can be setup to make specific actions happen in response to simple events. I even know about chemical methods for making the same thing happen. This isn’t anything like that, Tamara. That kind of conditioning doesn’t produce the things that I’m feeling now.”
I looked Alan in the eye and I could feel his frustration mounting in him, could practically hear the thoughts in his head. His feelings were becoming more and more intense, and it wouldn’t be long before he wouldn’t be capable of ignoring them any longer. There was only one way to make it stop, and I was the one standing in his way.
I shook my head sadly. “It doesn’t have to be like this,” I told him.
Alan just stood there and nodded at me. “Oh, yes it does.”
We both charged each other at the same time. Alan’s hands reached out for me, I batted them aside and jabbed my shoulder into his chest, pivoted and used the momentum of my turn to throw him face first into a wall. I followed behind him, went to reach for one of his hands while my other hand reached for my handcuffs.
Alan was too quick for that, though, and he knew all the tricks. He turned and backhanded me across the face. I reeled from the impact and saw a flash of metal out of the corner of my eye as he drew out the machete from behind his back. I stepped into him and blocked the slash with my hand as I jabbed two fingers of my other hand into his solar plexus. The air whooshed out of him and he bent double, so I followed up by taking hold of his head and ramming my knee up into his face. He dropped to the ground, dazed and stunned.
I withdrew my handcuffs and took hold of one of Alan’s hand, secured one half of the cuffs to his wrist.
I was so focused on securing Alan that I didn’t see his free hand arc upward in a roundhouse punch that took me in the temple and threw me aside. I crashed into a row of refuse containers and rolled with the impact, stopping on my back. Alan reversed the machete in his grip and lunged for me, screaming a war cry that he had to have learned in the Marines.
But halfway to me he stopped and his war cry turned into a shriek of agony, the kind of thing that you hear from a wounded animal. But Alan wasn’t wounded, not physically anyway. He clutched at his temples and staggered, fell to his knees on the ground. I felt a slender needle of hope shiver through me as I realized that what I was seeing was part of Alan’s personality reasserting itself, the part of him that wanted to protect this young girl who had taken him as a friend and adopted him as a big brother. But then that hope turned into fear and dread as I realized what else was going to happen. Alan needed to kill, he was being driven to kill. And if he couldn’t kill me then he was going to kill someone else.
Alan staggered to his feet and turned with the machete in his hand and trotted off towards the mouth of the alley, a man on a mission. At that point I gave up all hope of being able to take him alive. If this was going to stop then I was going to be the one tasked with stopping it, and to do that I was going to have to use lethal force.
I didn’t bother to get up. I laid there on my back and pulled my sidearm, sighted down the barrel to my target and fired.
Alan dropped to the ground, a fist sized hole in his chest where his heart used to be. He was dead before he hit the ground.
I dropped my pistol to the duracrete and wept.
* * *
Every time you do something good there is a reckoning for it. Questions must be answered and reasons must be given.
I was back at headquarters sitting in the office of my division lieutenant, Kevin Dubois. I had presented my verbal report of what had happened and how I had come to discover that Alan was the killer. I also presented the report from a baffled forensics team who had identified those blood fragments that I had brought in as belonging to three of the victims. I presented my conclusions as to why he had done it and then had yielded the floor to Gerald.
Gerald had handed a text copy of the autopsy report to Kevin, but for my sake he decided to deliver it verbally as well. I didn’t understand why, until he had produced the implant that he had removed from Alan’s brain.
It wasn’t any bigger than a microchip, just a little thing that could get lost in the palm of someone’s hand. It had tiny metal leads reaching out from various parts of it. It looked kind of like a mechanical spider.
Gerald shook his head as he tried to explain it. “I’ve never seen anything like this before,” he explained. “It’s a neural implant that much I know for sure. And given what Tamara described to us I think that its job is to provide a micro-electrical stimulus to certain parts of the brain. Specifically I think that its job is to stimulate those parts of the brain which control our more violent and aggressive impulses.”
“The kind of feelings that would make you want to go out and kill,” Kevin supplied.
“Precisely,” Gerald answered. “This device, in combination with a program of hypnotic and chemical conditioning, could conceivably create the kind of impulses that Tamara reports Alan was feeling before their showdown.”
“Do we know how it was triggered?” Kevin asked.
Gerald shook his head. “My initial scans did detect circuitry on the device which could correspond to some sort of signal receiver; however I haven’t been able to determine exactly what range of frequencies it uses. It’ll take time for the Science and Technology boys to figure the ins and outs of the implant.”
“If this thing is triggered by remote,” Kevin mused, “then that means that whoever is behind all this is still out there. It also means that we could have whole segments of our population with these things implanted in their heads and we would never know about it until it was too late.”
“And that means that we’ll be seeing him again,” I put in.
Kevin looked at me for a long moment, seemed to be taking my measure before he nodded. “Yes, we probably will. But that’s for the future.”
The future, the man says. Me, I couldn’t bear to think about it. I was simply in too much pain. At that point I really didn’t care if there was a future or not, nor did I care if I was a part of it.
I stood up and left the office, fled for the door. I didn’t bother to pack up any of the personal possessions that were in my desk. I didn’t have the strength for it and at that moment I really didn’t care if I left anything behind.
Gerald was waiting for me at the front door of Police headquarters. He hugged me close and held me for a long moment, whispering in my ear the whole time. “Don’t hesitate to call me if you need anything,” he instructed me.
“I won’t forget,” I assured him.
And then I let go and stepped out through the door.
Copyright © 2003 by Michael J A Tyzuk